Judges take center stage with most races uncontested

Democratic candidates have dominated Beacon elections in recent years, and with no opposition in 7 of 10 races, they’re poised to do so again this year. 

All six City Council seats are uncontested, and there’s no mayoral election this year. The race that’s gotten the most attention is for City Court judge, which has not been contested in a decade.

The court, which handles misdemeanors, traffic infractions, landlord/tenant disputes and other small claims, has one full-time justice who serves for 10 years and a part-time justice who serves for six years.

The incumbent full-time judge, Tim Pagones, was elected to his first, 10-year term in 2011. Before that, he won six-year terms in 1999 and 2005. 

Pagones ran those years as a Republican, but this year — facing opposition from Greg Johnston, a public defender for the last 17 years — he filed nominating petitions to appear on the Republican, Conservative, Democratic and Working Families lines. Those are the only four remaining after New York State cut the Green, Libertarian and Independence parties from ballots when they failed to receive 130,000 votes, or 2 percent of the votes cast, in the most recent presidential election.

Beacon candidates
Pagones, Johnston

Johnston filed for the Democratic and Working Families lines, as well. 

State law allows judicial candidates — but no others — to file to appear on a party’s line in a primary without being a registered member of the party or having the party’s authorization.

So while Johnston is endorsed by the Beacon Democratic Committee and the New York State Working Families Party (WFP), Pagones, who dropped his Republican affiliation in 2019 to become an independent, forced June primaries for both lines by filing. 

Pagones won the WFP line with 19 votes to Johnston’s 7, so he will appear on three lines on the Nov. 2 ballot. Johnston took the Democratic line handily, 1,112 to 93, in the primary.

Pagones says his experience “running a court,” along with more than a decade as a prosecutor and then a criminal defense attorney, qualifies him for another 10-year term on the bench. Pagones has also taken issue with Johnston’s campaign materials, which identify Johnston as the “Democratic” candidate.

Read earlier Q&As with Johnston and Pagones

“He knows the makeup of Beacon,” which has three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans, Pagones said. “He’s hoping that every Democrat votes the line, and basically he doesn’t care about the rest of the voters. This position shouldn’t be based on party — it should be based on qualifications.”

Johnston, however, has taken issue with Pagones implying that he’s not qualified. “I don’t just practice in one courtroom, in front of one judge,” Johnston said, noting that he has experience representing clients in both felony and misdemeanor trials. “I’ve seen what makes an effective judge.”

If elected, Johnston says he would bring diversity as “a government attorney representing poor people” to a position traditionally held by prosecutors and private attorneys. He also hopes to institute a youth court that emphasizes counseling and education, rather than community service, for defendants ages 26 and younger.

Demographic trends may be in Johnston’s favor. The number of registered Democrats in Beacon rose by 23 percent between 2016 and 2020, while the number of Republican voters fell by 7 percent and the number of registered Conservative Party members by 13 percent. The number of independent voters rose by 3 percent.

City Council

The City Council stands to lose a lot of experience after four of its six members — Terry Nelson (Ward 1), Air Rhodes (Ward 2), Jodi McCredo (Ward 3) and Amber Grant (at-large) — announced this spring that they would not seek reelection. Nelson, McCredo and Grant have all been on the council since 2018; Rhodes won a two-year term in 2019.

The newcomers who will be on the ballot next month are Molly Rhodes (Ward 1), Justice McCray (Ward 2), Wren Longno (Ward 3) and Paloma Wake (at-large). 

Meet the Candidates

Molly Rhodes (no relation to Air) works for the nonprofit Teach for America and served on the police chief search committee; McCray has worked at the Howland Public Library and is an organizer of Beacon 4 Black Lives; Longno is a nonprofit professional who has worked at Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley; and Wake works at Flora Good Times in Beacon and for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, and was vice chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission. She is also an organizer of Beacon 4 Black Lives.

Two incumbents, Dan Aymar-Blair (Ward 4), who was first elected in 2019, and longtime at-large member George Mansfield, are running for reelection. 

The candidates are all Democrats.

Dutchess County

Rachel Saunders

Frits Zernike, a Democrat whose 16th District seat in the Dutchess County Legislature includes Beacon Ward 4 and part of Ward 3, also announced earlier this year that he would not seek reelection to a third, 2-year term. 

Yvette Valdes Smith, who serves as secretary on the board of the Stony Kill Foundation, will appear on the Democratic and WFP lines to fill the seat. Ron Davis, the chair of the Fishkill Republican Committee, will be on the Republican and Conservative lines. 

Denise Watson

Beacon resident Nick Page, a Democrat, is running unopposed for his third, 2-year term representing the 18th District, which includes Beacon Wards 1 and 2 and part of Ward 3. 

Beacon resident Rachel Saunders will be on the Democratic and WFP lines in the race for Family Court judge. She is challenging incumbent Denise Watson, who will appear on the Republican and Conservative lines.

Saunders edged Watson in June in a WFP primary, 76-74.

Family Court judges, who serve 10-year terms, preside in cases involving custody, divorce, child support, abuse and guardianship.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

One reply on “Beacon Election Preview”

  1. Holding party-organized elections for local judges strikes me as an incredibly bad idea — it pushes communities to view judges as strictly political positions, and creates incentives for these elections to be run on political lines beholden to local parties (whether the candidates want this), rather than on professional merits.

    Over time, and especially in the current climate, the upshot will not be judges who are responsive to community values in the application of commonly agreed-upon law. It will be further political polarization, deepening differentiation in how the law is applied depending on the locality, and a general sense of the law as solely another partisan weapon.

    We should have a system that rewards judges who strive — however imperfectly — for nonpartisan, professional application of the law, independently of party, with latitude for individual judgment but also a commitment to the parameters of accepted legal practice. To that end, judges should run for regular terms but on a strictly non-party basis, and be subject to recall elections with a high bar, as a democratic way to check instances of clear ethical or political overreach.

    No independent judiciary has ever, in fact, been fully independent from the political views of its judges, of course, and this is not insignificant. But the only thing worse than this is a fully and openly politicized judiciary. The lesser of two evils is a wiser choice by far.

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